The story behind ‘the Russell’ case

Brockville has many  stories to tell.Brockville has many  stories to tell.
Brockville has many stories to tell.
Those interested in the 
history of Falkirk FC will look at the fixtures for season 1935/36 and the eagle-eyed amongst them will spot a missing Saturday.

The blank space conceals a major scandal that seriously damaged the reputation of Falkirk F.C. and ended a life-long passion for the game of a man who had been a great player and very successful manager before coming to Brockville. The events surrounded what came to be known as “The Russell Case”.

Falkirk played Ayr United at Somerset Park and both clubs were in relegation trouble. The only teams that Falkirk could realistically catch were Albion Rovers, Queen of the South, St.Mirren and Ayr United.The game at Somerset Park was a “must-win” for Falkirk. The Bairns went down with some confidence, especially knowing that they had beaten Ayr 8-1 at Brockville earlier in the season, and manager Willie Orr knew just how much was at stake.

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A sizeable away support saw Falkirk win a great game 3-2 and give themselves a chance of avoiding the drop. That result however does not appear in the record books. And the reason why is the subject of this week’s article.

There was an investigation after a complaint had been received from Ayr United alleging that one of their players, Robert Russell, had been given a payment from the Falkirk manager Willie Orr not to play in the game.

Orr was well-known in the game on both sides of the Border, and had been a player and manager of some note. He started his career with Airdrie before moving south to Preston North End in 1894.

It was at Parkhead though where he established himself as a real star, helping Celtic to the Scottish title in his first season. He was a powerful full-back and a natural leader, becoming captain in 1902, leading the club to three league titles and two Scottish Cup wins. He led them to the double in 1906/07.

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As a manager, he started his career at Broomfield and under his leadership, the Diamonds enjoyed their best spell ever. Airdrie surprised many by finishing runners-up in Scotland in his second season, the club’s highest- ever league finish. It was no one-off achievement and he repeated the feat in each of the following four seasons, narrowly missing out on the title each time. Willie led the club to their only Scottish Cup win in 1924.

Leicester City appointed him to succeed Peter Hodge and they finished as runners-up to Sheffield Wednesday in 1928/29. Until the 2016 Claudio Ranieri-led season this was the highest ever finish in the top flight for The Foxes. After a slump in form led to a depressing winter, in January 1932 he resigned on the back of six straight league defeats.

He arrived at Brockville and hopes were high that he might take the club back to the kind of early century success under Willie Nicol. Season 1934/35 was to prove his downfall- all because of a mere £3.

The story goes that Orr had been keen to sign Robert Russell and had held exploratory talks with the player and might even have played him in a bounce game. Some suggestions were made that the Bairns manager had arranged to get Russell a job with Alexander’s coachbuilders at Camelon.

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The key events took place in the days leading up to the match at Somerset Park. Allegedly Russell had visited Brockville to meet with the Falkirk boss on Thursday, March 6 with the vital relegation battle due to take place on Saturday, March 8. Only two men know the content of these conversations and there were no witnesses to what was discussed.

Russell claimed he was offered money by Willie Orr not to play against Falkirk. Orr claimed the conversations related to his job with Alexanders,and told Russell that he was not going to sign him, advising him to take any other offers that come along.

The game on the Saturday had ended with Ayr deeper in relegation trouble, yet Russell met again with Orr on the Monday afterwards. Again there were no witnesses.

The football authorities’ handling of the subsequent investigation and tribunal was to say the least, shambolic.

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The hearing was packed to see the “Russell Case” unfold. It was agreed that both clubs could present their case and could call witnesses – with cross-examination possible. For Ayr, there was their manager Thomson, trainer Dalziel and Russell himself along with Mr.Abbott the president of Galston F.C. Falkirk were represented by Willie Orr and Mr.J. Marshall their treasurer. Two directors from each club assumed the roles of prosecution and defence lawyers with Mr.Kirkwood from Falkirk facing Mr.Lockhart from Ayr.

The proceedings were chaotic and witnesses who had given their testimony were allowed to converse with those waiting to go in. The Falkirk director argued that the entire proceedings were against the rules, but was overruled.

The two sides presented their cases and it became obvious that it was a case of one person’s word against another’s. The committee preferred Russell’s version of events and his account was backed up with witness statements. The Falkirk treasurer’s account was not seen as pertinent to the case. Falkirk’s directors had no knowledge of the payment being alleged by Russell and Willie Orr vehemently denied all the “charges” being made.

Orr was left in an ante-room as the deliberations continued and no SFA official had the decency to inform him of the outcome. A Falkirk Herald reporter was left to break the news to him of the verdict.

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The result was devastating for Willie Orr. Falkirk FC was fined £25, Orr was suspended from all forms of football without limit of time – and more crucially from a football point of view the 3-2 Falkirk win was deleted from the record books and the game ordered to be replayed. Orr was crestfallen and realised that his career was over.

His comments to the Herald reporter gave an indication of his shock, “Surely not out of the game for good? How could they do that? All along, I’ve denied the allegations because on all conscience they are not true. Really, it is too terrible.” He had been found guilty of “inducing a player to abstain from playing in a game”.

Robert Russell was fined £10 and suspended until the end of the season. Orr was relieved of his duties and the game was declared null and void. The replayed game took place on Wednesday, April 10 with Ayr United winning 3-1 and a crowd of 10,000 saw a great match.

At the end of the season, Falkirk and St.Mirren went down and the relegation was to prove a blessing in disguise as new manager Tully Craig built a great side.

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Orr’s sine die suspension was lifted in 1937, but he never became involved in football again. The Russell Case was a sad way to finish a great career for the man – and all for the sake of £3 - allegedly.

He died in 1946, aged 72.

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